A coronavirus poem

These next few months, every time I stop myself from touching my face by force of will,

Let me remind myself that the same willpower is available to diet, to exercise, to throw myself into a project, to keep calm amid screaming, to introduce myself to strangers, to decrease the fraction of my life spent getting upset that someone was mean to my ingroup on social media, or otherwise to better myself as a human specimen.

Yea, let all of these things be just as easy for me as it was not to touch my face.

Ah, but what if I forget, what if I do keep touching my face in the next few months?

In one plausible scenario, with at least ~0.1% probability and probably higher depending on my age, a cheap answer will be available to that question: namely, that I’ll no longer be around to ponder the implications.

12 Responses to “A coronavirus poem”

  1. Justin Says:

    Professor, I feel your pain. I spend far too much time with my fingers in my mouth for various reasons (no, not those reasons!!!), nail biting, smoking etc but to be honest there’s more chance of me dying from the virus than there is of me stopping those bad habits. Don’t worry I’m sure you’ll be fine!!!

    On another note, the recent random xenophobic tweet by the Snickers chocolate bar brand against the Welsh people and our language and their attempt to avoid an apology by making another joke (they deleted the tweet and apologized eventually) makes me hope that their profits will be hit very very hard by the virus. I urge anyone who is familiar with this kind of thing to support us by rejecting this brand / company.

  2. Jon Awbrey Says:

    Our reach exceeds our rut, no doubt,
    But we grasp but what we drag into it.

  3. fred Says:

    Haha, my mindfulness practice really comes handy here – I’m used to observing an itch for what it is, an appearance in consciousness, of the same nature as all the other appearances in consciousness: images, sounds, sensations, thoughts, emotions, sense of self, sense of agency, sense of will, …

  4. John Cherniavsky Says:

    The interesting thing about masks is that for almost everyone their value is not to screen out pathogens, but to prevent you from touching your nose or mouth. Seen that way, they are great!


  5. fred Says:

    John #4

    you’d think that by now we would have a very precise understanding of how a virus like the flu can spread through the air.

    But apparently not…
    I guess that all the techniques featured in “The Andromeda Strain” were crackpot scifi after all!

    Clearly the virus doesn’t just float around between air molecules but is being carried in “droplets” (it needs moisture to survive).
    But I remember reading a few years back that some experiment showed that the “steam” from the breathing is enough to carry the flu virus (when you live in a cold place, you clearly see the extend and spread of that steam).
    Droplets wouldn’t make it through a mask, but once they do dry, it’s possible there’s a window when the wearer could breath in some of the active virus through the mask.
    This is probably why they tell you that a wet mask has to be discarded.

    Note that a worn mask can actually be reused if you dry&zap it in a UV sterilizer (used typically to sanitize baby stuff), and then you let it sit in a zip lock for 3 days.

  6. Will Says:

    I proceeded to touch my face unconsciously as I read your post.

    + 2 Will Power

  7. Deepa Ramani Says:

    Sorry to be yet another person who talks about this virus, but I have 2 comments:

    1. Is it 0.1% or 3.4%? Based on data from Hubei, the WHO seems to have upped the case fatality rate or CFR (a term I had not heard of until recently!) from 2% to 3.4%, yesterday. As far as I know, the regular flu has a CFR of 0.1%.

    2. I read on a Harvard website some years ago, that the 15th most interesting social science problem in the world, according to Harvard, was “How do we get people to do what they know is good for them?”



  8. asdf Says:

    Surgical masks won’t filter out the virus but it’s still worth wearing one since it stops you from touching your face. I hope everyone wears them even with no coronavirus danger, since they also obstruct face recognition cameras.

  9. Aaron G Says:

    Deepa #7,

    The case fatality rate (CFR) is based on the number deaths out of the number of confirmed cases. Given that we have heard rates of many individuals infected with the SARS-Cov-2 virus (that causes COVID-19 illnesses) who were asymptomatic (in comparison to the flu), the actual fatality rate, the infection fatality rate (IFR) is likely far less than 3.4%.

    It’s also worth noting that the CFR for COVID-19 outside of China thus far is closer to 1.6%.

    Furthermore, over 80% of deaths from COVID-19 were in patients over the age of 60, and over 75% had pre-existing medical conditions. And over 80% of those infected with symptoms only reported mild symptoms.

    So the moral is, if you are < 60 years of age and in good health, you really shouldn't worry so much!


  10. Raoul Ohio Says:

    After reading this yesterday, I was giving a midterm to a large class. At a point when there were 18 students left in the room, I did a quick count. 7 of 18 were touching their face at the instant I counted.

  11. Scott Says:

    Raoul #10: Yeah, I’ve also been quietly doing such counts lately, with alarming results (though it’s little better when I pay attention to my own hand movements).

  12. Vampyricon Says:

    asdf #8: “I hope everyone wears them even with no coronavirus danger, since they also obstruct face recognition cameras.”

    Ah, the Hong Kong approach.